The device that could change the Internet

MGN
Saturday, September 28, 2013 - 5:00pm

Depending whom you ask, Chad Russell and Charles Butkus' invention is either a step forward for the Internet -- or a death knell for free content.

Their AdTrap device intercepts online advertisements before they reach any devices that access your Internet connection, allowing you to surf the Web -- even stream videos -- without those annoying ads.

Their inspiration? A conversation about the early days of the Internet.

"It was page, text and pictures -- and that's it," said Russell, 31.

In other words, there were zero ads. So, Russell and Butkus set out to recreate the past and they came up with AdTrap. The company's motto is, "The Internet is yours again."

While there are countless software and browser plug-ins that block online advertisements -- many of them free -- they are limited to the individual device or the specific browser.

AdTrap, a white rectangular box that resembles a wireless router and costs about $120, intercepts the ads before they reach the laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

Interest and enthusiasm for Russell and Butkus' idea translated into $200,000, raised through a 30-day Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign earlier this year. The funds are being used by parent company Bluepoint Security, a mobile antivirus software firm, to manufacture the AdTrap units.

"I think it speaks to the mindset of people right now of their experience on the Internet," Russell said.

AdTrap devices started shipping in August, so it's still a little early to get a thorough review of the product.

At the company's modest Palo Alto headquarters, I tested one of the units, which take only a few minutes to set up.

Compared to the various software ad-blockers, Russell said a hardware solution is more effective because it works on every device connected to your network.

The unit sits between the modem and router and it works reasonably well. It was nice to go to YouTube and other websites, click on a video and have it play instantly, ad free.

There are a couple of sites like Hulu, for instance where AdTrap doesn't work, but Russell said they're working on some solutions.

For many users, it's a huge victory over those annoying advertisements that sometimes follow you around the Web or make you wait 30 seconds before you can watch a video.

"At some point, it's gotten a bit much," Russell said, referring to online ads.

But these ads also allow websites, including CNN.com, to offer content without charge, and ad-blocking devices like AdTrap could put that business model at risk.

That could spell potential legal trouble for entrepreneurs like Russell and Butkus. They've already retained a Silicon Valley law firm in case things get thorny with advertisers.

"We're not trying to be against all advertisers," said Julie Russell, Chad Russell's mother, who handles finances for AdTrap.

"We're trying to make the user have an experience when the Internet first came out and there wasn't so much interference." 

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